Opportunity and Psychological Anthropology of Low-Income
on 4/20/2008 07:17:00 AM
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A lot of crime is committed because of opportunity. - The Sherriff at my old work
They say "opportunity" is limited in low-income areas. This is what I wrote in many a grant proposal.
"Limited Opportunity" is code for not many decent jobs, decent schools, etc. "Decent jobs" is code for legal, stable, flexibility for promotion, and enough money to achieve a modicum of sustainable comfort. "Decent schools" is code for well-equipped, safe, undercrowded, good high school graduation rates
When we use the phrase or any variation of "limited opportunity", this is what were saying: the best paying jobs are illegal and unstable, and either that or there aren't any jobs from which you can move up, give you advantage, or which make any sense to take. The schools are terribly equipped, unsafe, overcrowded, where just as many people drop out as graduate.
Limited opportunity --- risky or undervalued and overworked jobs, terrible schools.
I found it interesting that the sherriff used "opportunity" in a different way. In the context of which he made the quote above, he was describing how he was almost jacked because he looked aloof to his surroundings. Obviously, he meant "opportunity" in the broadest way possible, "a favorable or advantageous circumstance or combination of circumstances."
The robber saw an "opportunity" to take his shit because he was alone and looked aloof to all his surroundings. It wasn't random.
This made me think, people will see different opportunities all the time, given what they grow up with, their experience and their knowlege.
Plenty of white people coming from Spain, England, France, etc. saw opportunities to convert more people to their religion and make money by jacking American Indians of their land. Perhaps coming from what they considered to be crowded and restrictive places with hierarchies, combined with knowledge of farming methods, they saw an opportunity to get their own land, and make their own industries in an entirely different land.
If you see a vulnerable person, either physically and/or mentally unimposing, you're almost pre-programmed to take advantage or create opportunity for yourself, whether you're going to steal or sell something to someone. I'm not sure if that's an American-specific or mankind type of feature. But if you see this opportunity this is informed by your assumption and expectation that this person does not have the capability, physical or mental, to resist what you are doing to take his/her resource(s). This is what we see in business anywhere in America whether the corporations posing as individual people and trying to make money off of everything including the air we breathe to gang-bangers extorting money from cart vendors.
These are all opportunities seen and taken by individuals and groups of people.
So perhaps there is no lack of opportunity per se, anywhere, including low-income neighborhoods.
What we should say is not that there's any lack of opportunities, but it's a lack of positive, "legal" opportunities for folks in low-income circles. "Positive, legal opportunity" meaning not likely to lead to personal/interpersonal physical and/or mental destruction and endangerment. There's a lack of that.
I think what distinguishes "positive" from "destructive" is that positive doesn't include stepping on people (at least not as directly).
So by that logic, there's much more opportunity to do bad than do good in the hood. People do not intend to be bad when growing up, but if the opportunity is there, given what they learn in their primary environs with peers and family, they will seem to keep taking those opportunities in that direction, building their skills and knowledge in things that are not good.
If they become good at it, they've built up this expectation that they can keep exploiting these opportunities...that they have a modicum of invincibility, strength, a feeling that they've got it all figured out.
Labels: Keying in on Language, War on Poverty (or lack thereof)